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Jul 07, 2014
Mexican Medici - Los Angeles Confidential

Mexico City scion-cum-LA mega collector Eugenio López Alonso maybe the most important contemporary arts patron in the country. Eli Broad who?

Eugenio López
Vogue hombre: Eugenio López, LA’s greatest collector and most stylish bachelor, gives good art from his home above Beverly Hills.

Despite being one of the world’s largest art collectors, one of the saviors of LA’s Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA), and the founder of the Museo Jumex, which placed Mexico City in the crosshairs of contemporary art when it opened last November—there’s little doubt that Eugenio López, the sole heir to Latin America’s Grupo Jumex juice empire, is hardwired for numbers.

Date he closed on his house? Price he didn’t pay for a painting in auction 15 years ago? Ed Ruscha’s birthday? This cascade of data comes rolling off in slightly accented English as López, 47, orbits from Warhol Brillo box to Basquiat painting and back in his Beverly Hills house—always solicitous as he goes into energetic conversational tangents in English and Spanish to the perpetual audience of servants, friends, curators, and artists who seem to be in hourly rotation at Casa López. With his machine-gun restlessness, sparkling eyes, and permanent shy smile, he’s like a groomed Latin version of Martin Short’s Ed Grimley character. And, like Short, he’s fun.

“When I first became a trustee at MOCA, I invited a few people over for drinks after an opening…. Suddenly, I had 150 guests,” he says with modest surprise. “They were crawling over the walls after I shut the gates. It was absolutely terrifying!”

Jeff Koons’s Elephant (Yellow), 2004
Jeff Koons’s Elephant (Yellow), 2004, dominates the lawn of “Casa López”.

López has always been a magnet for interesting people. “We grew up in a pretty closed circle in Mexico City,” remembers one of his friends. “But he was flamboyant and wild—the guy who stuck out—and he was able to get away with it because he was such a sweetheart to everyone.”

Lording it above the city from a 1958 stonewalled midcentury-modern house isolated by hedges and banana palms, López has created an LA base that manages to be both ostentatious in its artwork and cool in its presentation. Out in the garden, a pool curves sexily beneath stone lily pads like a David Hockney dream. Within, period furniture such as a cowhide-upholstered Arne Jacobsen egg chair provides smart informality amid world-class art. It could be the lair of one of James Bond’s Connery-era villains, when they still had really good taste.

“In 2001 a friend of mine showed me the house,“ remembers López, in a characteristically numerical anecdote. “It reminded me of the sort of place Frank Sinatra or Lana Turner would have lived in the ’60s. The woman who [owned it] was very reluctant to sell. She’d grown up here and already turned down two other clients. It turned out our mothers had the same birthdate. She said: ‘This is the buyer!’”

Architect David Chipperfield, López, Rosario Saxe-Coburg, and Patrick Charpenei at the Museo Jumex opening last November.
Architect David ChipperfieldLópez, Rosario Saxe-Coburg, and Patrick Charpenei at the Museo Jumex opening last November.

Having spent his childhood traveling between Mexico City, Paris, and the US, López has long considered LA to be his spiritual home. “I’ve always been attached to the city,” he says of his decision to move here. “I came here in 1993 to buy some furniture at Pacific Design Center and I suddenly had a sensation that I’d lived here before in another life.”

“Eugenio, like so many Latin Americans, didn’t swallow the Kool-Aid that New York was the center of the avant-garde,” remembers Ray Smith, the prominent Mexican American artist who befriended López in the ’80s. “For many of us, the California scene was more happening—you had guys like Ed Ruscha and David Hockney. New York represents art as suffering. LA is outdoor, fun, it’s the ’hood, it’s the American dream.”

When López arrived in LA, he couldn’t have been more distant from the discretely churning wheels of the city’s art scene on which he would have such a fateful impact. He had just graduated from business school and was learning the ropes as Jumex’s marketing director in Mexico. “My real talent was not for business. I was working with my father in a very conservative circle,” he says. A chance encounter with high-powered dealer Esthella Provas at a Beverly Hills gallery inspired him to switch gears from nectar and juice to Nara and Judd.

“I’ll never forget my first auction,” says López. “It was a Sotheby’s night sale. When I got to the room, I saw the screens and people and auctioneer and I froze. I’d never studied art before. But I became obsessive about learning.”

Eugenio Lopez Alonso
Aqui Bacardi, a 1986 painting by artist Jeff Koons, presides over one end of the living room in López’s art-filled Midcentury-Mod-meets-James Bond bachelor pad.

He was an uncannily apt pupil, eventually opening with Provas the Chac Mool gallery on Robertson in Beverly Hills, a hot spot for 20th-century Latin American and US art that has since closed. “That became my excuse to come and go to LA,” laughs López. “I got to learn and love the great artists of the ’50s and ’60s.”

It was a great time for buying contemporary art, before the mad rush of techies, media stars, and hedge funders brought prices into current nosebleed levels. It took a little convincing to get his father to sink a large part of the Jumex fortune into his new passion, but López points to a behemoth Andreas Gursky photo of Frankfurt Airport dominating one of his living room walls. “When I bought this, it was the most expensive photo in the group and I was a little nervous, but I loved it so much. It has since quadrupled in price. My father was at first accepting [of investing in art]—but now he thinks I’m a genius.”

López’s ambitions got even grander in 1997. “In Mexico everyone had Riveras and Kahlos, but never Rauschenbergs, and I said, ‘Why don’t we have a great international collection down here?’”

In 2001 the first Museo Jumex opened in one of the company’s factory buildings in a drab Mexico City suburb, leading to a fateful encounter with Philippe Vergne (at the time with the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis), who came to curate an exhibit. Since Vergne was installed as the director of MOCA, the two have been working closely together to bring the museum back on its feet after a tumultuous period, which included the sudden firing of Vergne’s predecessor, the mass resignation of trustees, and the prospect of the institution going broke.

A work by the late Spanish painter Antoni Tàpies is displayed next to book shelves
A work by the late Spanish painter Antoni Tàpies is displayed next to book shelves in López’s study.

López was made cochair of MOCA’s fundraising campaign and subsequently raised an astronomical $100 million—$20 million more than the original goal. Within 10 months one of LA’s premiere art centers went from teetering on the edge of oblivion to securing a long-term future. “There’s no question he was vital in rescuing MOCA,” says the museum’s board president emeritus, Jeffrey Soros. “He led by example.”

Last November capped López’s lightning art career, with the opening of the new Jumex museum in Mexico City, designed by English starchitect David Chipperfield. Selections from the López collection, including Jeff KoonsOlafur Eliasson (for whom López was an early patron), and Mexican artists including Abraham Cruzvillegas and Mario García Torres are exhibited in the natural light that streams through the museum’s signature saw-tooth roof.

Although López’s museum minimizes shadows, expect to see his own shadow growing even taller in SoCal with the second “Pacific Standard Time” citywide blockbuster exhibits opening in 2017, emphasizing the artistic connections between LA and Latin America for which López is destined to be a vital link. And even though he has amassed 2,700 works of art, López is still collecting. “My collecting is changing, because now I have to make choices based on what I want to leave as a legacy, rather than what I like. For instance, video art—I’m not really a fan of that, but we buy it because we know it reflects contemporary tastes. A hundred years from now, when none of us are here, people will know what our reality was.”

And the nexus for that reality, at least in terms of contemporary art, has certainly shifted toward Southern California during López’s short tenure as its most prolific collector. “I think it’s hard to say whether he has changed LA’s art scene or LA’s art scene has changed him,” says Jeffrey Soros. “The two are so intertwined.”


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